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Debra Van Tuine

Art Review

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Debra Van Tuine
Butters Gallery 520 NW Davis
248-9378
Through April 27

Debra Van Tuinen garners much inspiration from the diverse coastal landscapes of the West. From this fodder, she creates loosely abstract, encaustic paintings, which attempt to translate the moody atmosphere that the land and sea can evoke.

At points, Van Tuinen does indeed key into the power of coastal elements; she takes the weight of the summer sun and the delicacy of ocean mist, for example, and blends them to create scenes of both serenity and turmoil. The smaller works in the exhibit are decidedly more intimate and compelling. Van Tuinen appears most comfortable with the smaller amount of space--perhaps because there is less chance for her wide expanses of color and gold leaf to take over the atmosphere of the piece.

A strong example of this is found in "Cirrus VIII." Van Tuinen establishes the horizon line in charcoal-gray and frames the entire scene with similarly hued clouds. Peeking out from this grayness is a burst of yellow and purple. The encaustic process bleeds out her brush strokes, resulting in blurred vision of Van Tuinen's aerial reverie. The color mixture suggests an intoxicating sunset--and paired with the thick gray elements, the scene imitates the atmosphere preceding a thunderstorm.

In a bulk of Van Tuinen's work, gold leaf makes a guest appearance. While the material can be a distracting, even gaudy element in painting, Van Tuinen incorporates it into her work with great economy. Remarkably, the gold leaf becomes part of her palette rather than gratuitous ornamentation. This use of gold leaf is most successful in the piece "Beach Meditations IV." The large panel boasts a brooding palette pronounced by muted blues and grays. Gold leaf comes into the mix as it depicts a coastal jetty. Van Tuinen uses the metallic substance sparingly--not enough to become brash, but enough to suggest a sandy beach. Above this horizon element, Van Tuinen adds just the faintest amount of purple and white to create a soft sky.

In contrast, the piece entitled "Water's Edge-Dusk" marks a point where color and gold leaf swallow up the overall mood Van Tuinen wishes to stir up. The large square panel is weighed down by a deep blood red field that is framed by areas of murky black pigment. The area above the horizon is filled with a mix of copper and gold leaf. While Van Tuinen is trying to represent the sun's reflection off of water, the painting really only provides a consideration of color and material. Unlike some of her other work, this piece is weighed down in the physical aspects of paint and goldleaf, and doesn't provide a meditative opening for the viewer.

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